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Bay Area Correctional Facilities Brace for Realignment

Posted on: 09/28/2011

The recent Supreme Court ruling we covered earlier this year is already having swift impact on local Bay Area jails as they brace for the beginning of the new criminal justice realignment. Enacted via the Budget Act of 2011, Realignment is intended to make changes to California’s correctional system which, according to Governor Jerry Brown, will “stop the costly, ineffective and unsafe ‘revolving door’ of lower-level offenders and parole violators through our state prisons.” It is the cornerstone of California’s solution for reducing the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons by May 24, 2013, as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

October 1 marks the first day of the new measures. Starting in just a few days, non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenses, generally low-level crimes, will serve their sentence at the local rather than state level. Local governments have been racing to ready themselves for the influx of new inmates. Maguire Correctional Facility, which serves Redwood City and San Mateo County, has imposed new cuts in visitation hours in anticipation of the measure. Visitors will no longer be allowed to visit on Mondays or Wednesdays. Inmates are allowed only two visits per week. Prison rights groups and families of inmates think that visitation cuts are counterproductive. More visits mean more support for inmates who need it.

Other counties, like Santa Clara County, are reaching out to the community to collaborate during realignment. Community forums are being held with local business partners and the community at large.

“In Richmond, frankly, it only takes one key person back on the streets to influence an entire cycle of violence and retaliatory activity,” Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus said. “Cities need more resources to help individuals have a reasonable chance of making good decisions.”

It is anticipated that sentencing for low-level offenses will be decreased dramatically to prevent overcrowding and a drain on county resources, which means more offenders back on the streets faster. Some counties are hoping to expand one-stop resource centers like drug and alcohol programs to help combat the prison cycle.

“These community forums are key in preparing for the challenges and opportunities realignment will bring to our current criminal justice system,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Board’s Public Safety and Justice Committee. ”Our main goal is to maintain public safety. The feedback gained from these forums will help ensure that the appropriate support, services, and supervision will be given to inmates so that they can be successful.”

With nearly all the bay area counties bracing for impact, both in terms or managing the additional load and the fiscal strain, it will be interesting to see how creative the departments can be, and what soutions can be found through community involvement.

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